Paisley Things is a 'shop with a conscience' selling artisan goods you can't find in regular shopping malls.Krystal Buckle 13 July 2017 10:15
Paisley Things was born from a broom six years ago.
After noticing a man selling hand-made brooms with complex embroidery at an agricultural show, Caroline Tobing was immediately curious as to how it was made. After visiting his village in Cianjur, she decided to purchase and sell some of his products to friends and family. It wasn’t long until other artisans begun to approach her, and from there Paisley Things was born.
Caroline had no plans to start a shop but that, she says, was the fun of it. A non-for-profit program under the Darius Tobing Foundation, Paisley Things supports local artisans across Java by working with them in their own environment. “We go to them. Our program means that we approach the artisans, we meet them and we go to their home. We supply them with the down payment, we supply the tools that they need and when the product is finished they call us and we go back to the village, we take the product with us and we pay the remainder,” Caroline said.
Fair-trade and sustainable practices form the crux of Caroline’s philosophy at Paisley Things. All the money from her shop goes back into the foundation to help more people, develop more programs and support more artisans in their villages. Over the past six years, Caroline has witnessed a growing appreciation for recycled and handmade products made by locals. “They are realizing that yes, perpetuating this knowledge of handmade is important for their own heritage. There is also a hunger for handmade, for one of a kind items,” she said.
From Batik hand-embroidered in Surabaya to organic citronella, hand hammered galvanized aluminium buckets, cutting boards made from recycled pieces of wood and old hand-painted Kaleng Kerupuk, customers can look forward to a continually evolving, one-of-a-kind collection.
“Each of these artisans have skills which are heritage skills. Skills that are hard to duplicate because they learn it from somebody in their house when they were a child. These skills, if you don’t keep them working, will die when they become a driver or a maid and will not be passed on,” she said.
Donations from the program assist in supporting orphanages, retirement homes, libraries, schools, preschools and individuals. When questioned if she would ever consider exporting her products and handmade items overseas, Caroline’s answer was a flat no. “The number one reason why I don’t let other people sell these products is because behind every single product there is a person. And I want you to know about this person because I don’t make a living out of this, it is purely a non-profit foundation," she said.
Learning the stories behind each artisan and their creation is part of the adventure that Paisley Things provides to its customers. According to Caroline, “a lot of artisans don’t realize that their skills are beautiful skills that are important to save. People are buying their things not because they feel sorry for them but because for them it is a beautiful object to bring back to their country.”
It is clear that strong beliefs and morals form the framework that holds Paisley Things together. Scattered with eccentric trinkets, it is hard to walk past such a warmly decorated shopfront. Over the course of our interview, Caroline’s passion for this project was clear and her final words to me were this:
“Buy local, buy fair-trade and buy Indonesian. Find out where the piece of art you’re buying is made. Is the person benefiting from it? Or is it chain-made?”